Aged care nurses underutilised despite workforce shortage - national survey

One third of all aged care nurses are not being used to their full potential 

Media Release 21 June 2023 

More than one third (34%) of all nurses working in residential or community aged care settings are not being utilised most of the time, according to a new national survey of Australia’s primary health care (PHC) nursing workforce. 

More than half of these nurses said they requested to use more of their skills of experience in the job, with more than one third saying their requests were denied because there was no financial benefit to their aged care employer. This is despite the Albanese Government needing an additional 14,000 nurses to meet its commitment for a registered nurse available 24/7 in every residential aged care facility by July 2023.  

The 2022 APNA Workforce Survey was conducted by the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA). It is the only national survey focusing exclusively on the nearly 100,000 nurses who work in primary health care in Australia. The survey recorded ~4000 responses, the biggest response in the 15-year history of the survey. 

According to The Survey: 

  • More than one third (34%) of all nurses working in residential or community aged care settings are not utilised often or most of the time, despite workforce shortages in the sector  
    • This included 36% of registered nurse respondents and 29% of enrolled nurse respondents 
  • More than half (51%) of all nurses requested to extend their role by using more of their skills or experience   
    • Of these, more than one third (38%) managed to negotiate to use more of their skills 
  • However, almost a third (32%) were denied a request to use more of their skills and experience 
    • Of those denied, almost one quarter (23%) said it was because there was no financial benefit to their employer 

PHC nurses (including aged care nurses) account for around one in seven of the 640,000 registered health professionals in Australia. The Australian Department of Health and Aged Care predicts a shortage of 85,000 nurses by 2025 and 123,000 nurses in Australia by 2030. Given Australia’s ageing population, and subsequent rise in chronic disease prevalence, it is critical that nurses be empowered to work to meet the healthcare needs of the nation. 

Many nurses working in the aged care sector are prevented from fully utilising their skills and experience with their residents largely due to the chronic shortage of nurses across the residential and community aged care settings. 

These staff shortages mean an increased workload for each remaining nurse, meaning they must spend more time providing basic levels of care to more patients, and less time on the type of care which can improve patient health and reduce unnecessary hospital admissions. 

The Albanese Government is targeting this issue with its election commitment to hire enough additional nurses to ensure a registered nurse is available 24/7 in every aged care facility, as well as mandate 215 care minutes per patient per day. But there is more work to be done. The Government may not meet this commitment by its initial deadline of July 20231, meaning aged care nurses are still dealing with staff shortages, increased workloads and soaring stress levels. 


Quotes from APNA President Karen Booth 

“Despite the chronic staff shortages bedeviling our aged care sector workforce, more than one third of all aged care nurses are not being used to their full potential.  

“This aged care workforce shortage means that aged care nurses are run off their feet providing basic services to their patients, and do not have the opportunity to give each patient the care and personal time they require.  

“For example, a single aged care nurse may have only 90 minutes to supervise waking, showering, dressing, and feeding dozens of patients each morning.  

“People living in residential and community aged care facilities rely on these nurses. We know aged care nurses, including registered nurses (RNs) and endorsed enrolled nurses (ENs), are highly experienced, and we can’t afford to have them clinically underutilised. So much of RN activity is directed towards paperwork related to funding and regulatory requirements. We need their expertise for direct care to keep the people in their care comfortable and healthy. There is so much more these nurses could be doing.” 

“Primary health care nurses are ready, willing, and able to do more. They are highly motivated, highly educated, and highly experienced.  

“If nurses in aged care had the time and resourcing to provide more advanced levels of care, such as preventative care and to properly manage chronic conditions with their patients, this would help improve the overall health of their patients and reduce the burden on the health system. 

“This underutilisation of nurse skills, RN and EEN, represents a missed opportunity for the Australian health system, patients, and families. 

“APNA looks forward to working with the Albanese Government to implement these aged care sector reforms as efficiently and quickly as possible.”   

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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